Telling stories to help us find our true selves


Rev. Bob Chell

What’s your story?

What story does your family tell about you?

The story which reveals the quintessential you, the isolated incident which reveals the fullness of who you are?

The archetypal story for my children is the same, yet different.

When Dan was just able to talk he would crawl in bed with my wife, Carole, and I in the morning.

First I, and then Carole, would pull Dan toward ourselves saying, “My Dan!”

He loved it!

After a few minutes of the

both of us trying to claim him as our own, one of us would ask, “Whose Dan are you?”

He would grin as he answered, “Both of yours Dan!”

I didn’t realize how much Dan was telling us about himself until three years later when we did the same thing with Margaret when she grew old enough to crawl into bed with us in the morning.

She, too, loved being claimed by both Carole and I.

I can clearly recall the first game of “My Margaret!”

Though too young to pronounce her name, she knew who she was when asked, “Whose Margaret are you?”

With a huge grin she would shout “Marget’s Marget!”

A cute story to you, perhaps, but a flash of insight for me. In that instant I knew who my daughter was and who she was to be.

This was an insight coupled with a deeper understanding of my son.

We tell stories for reasons. Families tell stories to remind us who we are; people pleasers or free spirits.

Families tell stories to tell us who we are as a family; Grandma’s thriftiness, Grand-pa’s work ethic, the time Uncle Joe gave away the only pair of shoes he had, how Grandma’s egg money put seven children through college.

These stories are more about values than history.

These stories are fun to tell and fun to hear.

Who hasn’t climbed on a lap, only to ask, “Tell us about the time…” We correct the teller of the tale should they leave out the smallest detail.

Stories differ from moral pronouncements like the admonishment to “be honest.” It’s a clear statement of a value widely shared but means little standing alone.

Bury that same message in a story about Grandpa and the time he had all that money in his hand, money the family really could have used, only to return it saying, “There’s been a mistake,” and the true power of the value of honesty is revealed with all its power to shape our lives and tell us who we are.

That is what stories are ultimately about?all of them?those about ourselves as children and those about our families.

Ultimately both tell us about ourselves?about who we are, about our family’s values: work, education, honesty, optimism, faith.

It’s no accident that Jesus told stories rather than making moral pronouncements. The intent of stories of scripture, like the stories of families, is to tell us who we are and who we are to become.

Jesus’ stories enable us to see ourselves wherever we are in our faith journey?sometimes the good samaritan, sometimes the preoccupied hypocrite, and sometimes (and most difficult for we self reliant Midwesterners) the one wounded, dependent upon the help and generosity of others.

Listen carefully to the stories your family tells about you. They reveal who you are.

Listen carefully to the stories of your family history. They are rich in wisdom and values.

Listen carefully to the stories of scripture. They tell you who you are called to become.

The Rev. Bob Chell is the minister for the University Lutheran Church and head of the Campus Interfaith Council. Write to him at [email protected].